Relationship Connection: I’m burned out caring for my elderly mother

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Question

I am in my 50s, partially disabled, single and the second youngest of four children. Two years ago, after my father’s death, my mother started falling frequently so, at her request, I quickly moved in with her and later sold my home. About three months ago, Mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

Helping Mom is getting increasingly difficult, although she is still in the mild stage. I am coping with feelings of inadequacy, exhaustion, not knowing what to do and being overwhelmed.

I have two brothers and a sister. My younger brother lives on the other side of the country, has a demanding career and a young family, which makes it hard for him to get away. My sister lives within an hour and her children are all grown. My older brother lives out of state. At first, my sister agreed to come up twice a month for half a day or so to give me a break, but now she finds it difficult to get away. My older brother came a few times in the past to help with home maintenance. He will be retired this year and they have no plans to move closer to Mom.

I have always tried to avoid conflict and have tried to earn their love and approval by not needing anything.

Now, however, I am struggling greatly and need my siblings’ help. I have waited until I don’t think I can handle it anymore before reaching out to them. Both of those close to me geographically have declined. They feel that because I’m living with Mom, it is my job to care for her. They tend to take offense easily, and I don’t want to use guilt or cause conflict in the family. However, I do need their help. I’m much younger than they are and the least respected in the family.

How do I ask for help? How do I get my brothers and sister to take part in making plans for Mom’s future? Or do I just try to get by and not bother them? It has been very disappointing to Mom as well, as she has talked to them and been turned down.

Answer

Your willingness to drop everything to care for your aging mother is, no doubt, a beautiful act of service and sacrifice. Even though you start out with energy and good intentions, the reality of long-term care can eventually deplete your resources. Let’s talk about how to help support you as you support your mom.

It’s normal for intentions to be misaligned with reality, especially when dealing with difficult and long-term caregiving. It’s likely your siblings feel reassured that mom is in good hands because you’re there. So, they probably don’t feel the urgency to rearrange their lives to care for her. They most likely don’t see themselves as her caregivers.

Even though your siblings aren’t able or willing to give their time to help mom, perhaps you can ask them to give their financial support so you can outsource some of her care to others. You could hire a handyman to help with home repairs. There are professional adult respite services that allow you to get away for hours or days for some well-deserved rest. You can also enlist the help of neighbors and friends. Compassionate care for your mother can come from multiple sources beyond you and your siblings.

Please recognize that if you hadn’t been in a position to sell your home and move in with your mother, you and your siblings would have figured out another way to care for and visit with her. You don’t have to keep doing it the same way you’ve always done it. Changing how you meet her needs doesn’t diminish your love or concern for her.

Even though you could use more emotional and physical support from your siblings, they clearly aren’t making this a priority in their lives. This doesn’t mean that you have to carry the entire load by yourself. Decide what you can do and honor your limits. This is long-term care so you have to protect your physical and emotional health. Your siblings might respond better if they know that they can still care for their mother in a variety of ways. Physical proximity, though nurturing and comforting to your mother, may not always be a reliable option for everyone. Brainstorm with them about other ways to support and invite them to continue seeking ways to help.

Remember that she’s not the only one who needs care. The caregivers also need support through social activities, counseling, support groups, ongoing education and physical rest. The more clear you are about your own limits, the less resentful and powerless you will feel in your current situation.

You acknowledged that you’ve tried to be self-sufficient out of your desire to be accepted by your siblings. Even though you may have some struggles with feeling loved and accepted by your siblings, this is not the time to get your emotional needs met through caring for your mother. Your siblings might be more likely to help if you are more direct and straightforward about the needs that need to be met. Don’t set them up to care for both you and mom at the same time. They will likely sense that this is more loaded than simply caring for mom and might pull away.

You are doing a great service and you will feel lonely and overwhelmed much of the time, especially if you aren’t asking directly for what you need. Your mother’s quality of care can’t rise or fall based on how secure you feel with your siblings. As you identify her needs, assess what you can realistically do for her, make clear petitions for help and outsource the rest, you will find the right balance of caring for mom and caring for yourself.

Stay connected!

Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He specializes in working with couples in all stages of their relationships. The opinions stated in this article are his own and may not be representative of St. George News.

Have a relationship question for Geoff to answer? Submit to:

Email: geoff@lovingmarriage.com

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Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.

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8 Comments

  • Sapphire December 6, 2017 at 8:46 am

    It is amazing that our parents can give us life, care for us for 18 years, and then help us with whatever we need during our adult years and that’s okay, but when they need care in their old age, usually for a short time, this selfish generation can’t deal with it. I have taken care of some of the elderly in our family until they pass because no one else will and someone needs to do it, and the only difference between me and them is that I have a heart and a conscience. Unfortunately many therapists recommend stuffing the elderly in nursing homes so they won’t an imposition and interfere with their childrens’ lives, and there they will be fed, bathed, and given their meds. But they will never be loved, hugged, or important. If they live, they live… if they die, they die and someone else will be put in their bed. So, they still need to be watched over and protected in an institutional setting, too. The Golden Rule applies here… how do you want to be treated when it is your time? Then do it for your parents. There are so many lonely aging parents whose kids can’t be bothered with even a phone call or a visit, let alone willing to care for them when the time comes.

    • Honor1st December 7, 2017 at 9:07 am

      You speak like some clueless rat headed jerk .
      As someone who did that 24 Hours a freaking day job ( caring for elderly parents )
      I know 1st hand this is 10 times Harder than raising a child .

      Caring for seniors , when you have Zero authority , unlike parents who have 100% authority ,
      is Totally different and life draining .

      But maybe some day you Will experience this & realize what an arrogant , totally ignorant Jerk you are .

  • Hataalii December 6, 2017 at 10:34 am

    You are truly carrying a heavy load here! But you are not alone! There is a support group in St. George named “Memory Matters.” Here is a link to their website: https://www.memorymattersutah.org/about
    This was started by, and is staffed by people who have been in your position. Their phone number is: 435-319-0407.
    I strongly encourage you to reach out to the these folks. Every one of them, whether it is LuAnn, (who actually started this,) or David, Janet or Brenda are wonderful caring people. They form an excellent support group, with meetings, classes, and links to various organizations that may help you. They have education, activity classes, telephone support and much more.
    God bless you!

  • ladybugavenger December 6, 2017 at 11:46 am

    Really? You’re tired? Obviously your mother feels the burden. Take a 15 minute break and stop looking at everyone else. Reality is they are not going to help you until they want to. So get out of that thinking that others should help-its thoughts are literally killing you. you’re in it for the long term. You can do it!

    • ladybugavenger December 6, 2017 at 11:47 am

      *those thoughts are literally killing you

  • ladybugavenger December 6, 2017 at 12:29 pm

    And one more thing, you shouldn’t hold things in- you are literally killing yourself by walking on eggshells and not wanting to cause conflict. Lady, there is already a conflict. You need to just say what you need to say, let it out, stand strong! Be free! Stop worrying about causing conflict. If you don’t, you are going to cause yourself mental and physical ailments and stress will kill you.

  • Jim December 6, 2017 at 4:51 pm

    Months after my father passed, my mother suddenly needed me as a full time caregiver. Not knowing how else to meet her needs, I took on the role myself, and did so for nine years. I have one sibling, a nurse, who chose to not be part of her mother’s caregiving team (yes, sometimes there is an “I” in team – as I was the team). I was running a new business, and I was a caregiver twelve hours a day m-f and twenty-fours hours a day on weekends.

    It is way too easy to become overwhelmed, trying to do everything you need to do, and everything that your heart tells you to do to care for your mother. It will consume you and it has a good chance of killing you. You will lose touch with friends and family.

    Bring your siblings together, face to face. Figure out what they are wiling to do, and hold them to it. Make it clear that this is about your mother, you need their help, and you expect it.

    If they are not willing to help, they are in fact neglecting their responsibility if they choose to not participate in your mother’s care team. If this happens, move on without them (without anger), and don’t be afraid of not catering to their needs at this time, as you are busy enough.

    Make sure that all of Mom’s affairs are in order get a power of attorney and fill out a “Five Wishes” form (this form is a good idea for all adults, regardless of their age).

    • Hataalii December 6, 2017 at 7:40 pm

      Hi Jim. I went to the “Five Wishes” form website. One thing that it shows, is that Utah does NOT recognize the “Five Wishes” forms.
      Perhaps it is just to show how “different” Utah is, but Utah’s Advance Health Care Directive form is established in statute. Go to the following website for help and full explanations, as well as the forms that are recognized here in Utah.
      https://aging.utah.edu/programs/utah-coa/directives/

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